The fact that 16 incumbent House members, nine Democrats, one Independent and six Republicans are not seeking reelection is worthy of comment. Never have so many incumbents felt such compelling disgust at the same time. Most of the Democrats who are quitting cite rigid partisanship as the reason.
"We're not talking about an unwillingness to compromise here," said a departing Democrat from Columbia. "We're talking about an unwillingness to even have an honest dialogue. These people don't need to understand the issues, they just need to know how to vote."
"Frankly, I'm tired and disgusted," said Tim Rogers, "I'm watching environmental headway that has been made over the past decade wiped out by people who don't even understand what they are voting for."
A departing Republican who didn't go along with the line established by the governor and the speaker of the House, noted that "It's not partisanship [that's the problem], it's personal power."
Another Republican cited the petty sense of vindictiveness and retribution the current leadership indulges in as his main reason for packing up.
Rep. Harry Hallman (R-Charleston) was in line to chair the House Ways and Means Committee before he quit. Henry Brown (R-Berkeley) was given the job because he could be expected to go along with the governor's clique.
House Speaker David Wilkens, the governor's point man in the House, is said to have nixed Hallman because his environmental concerns make big businesses uncomfortable.
Both parties are suffering from the loss of intelligent and independent representatives. One can only wonder if the governor's gang isn't using some kind of IQ cap as criteria for joining their club.
It's confirmed. Word has reached us from Greenville Precinct 28, home of Bob Jones University, that God is a Republican. It apparently took years for Albert Allen, pastor of White Oak Baptist Church, to come to this conclusion, as his church has been used for over a decade as a polling place for both Democrats and Republicans. State law requires the parties to hold organizational meetings at the same place people vote.
On March 6, Allen finally realized that God is partisan, and he rose up and drove the Democrats from his sanctuary.
"We were surprised and disappointed," Ann Bettis told the local paper after the Democratic caucus meeting was forced to move to her house. "I've never been thrown out of a church before."
Allen said, "I made the decision personally based on the social and moral policies of the Clinton administration and a number of the planks in the platform of the Democratic National Committee that are, in my personal opinion, inconsistent with evangelical, Bible-believing, conservative Christianity."
You know the old story about blind people describing an elephant from touching it? The saga of "Do you Dewey" is a lot like that; your take on it depends on where you're standing.
The story started in February when The State ran a story about a lesbian wedding in Columbia.
Some 200 letters to the editor and a lot of pressure later, publisher Fred Mott called a meeting and told the news staff that he was going to write an editorial apologizing for running the piece, a move that is unprecedented in newspapers.
The sentiment in the news room was one of betrayal. The reporters did not necessarily favor same-sex unions; that wasn't the issue. The issue was that once a story runs, the newspaper has a duty to stand behind its reporters.
"There was a little voice in the back of my mind," said one reporter after the meeting. " What if the story I'm working on offends people? Will they run this? Will I have to apologize?' It was chilling."
There were heated exchanges and a general sense of insurrection at the meeting, but pragmatism kept anyone from resigning in disgust.
Gil Thelen, managing editor of The State, supported Mott at the meeting and during damage control.
But Thelen recently spoke out against Mott's editorial during a panel discussion on the controversy at the March meeting of the S.C. Gay and Lesbian Business Guild. Thelen said that while the paper's publisher shouldn't have apologized, it was poor judgment to have used so many photographs in such a prominent layout.
Ironically, the Guild was so supportive of The State's coverage of the wedding that members are helping with a subscription drive for the paper. The March issue of the Guild's newsletter encouraged its members to make a note on their subscription forms that they support The State's stand.
The freedom to criticize the management keeps the troops trudging at the state's largest newspaper. For its part, the giant anti-union Knight Ridder Corporation, which owns the paper, accommodates dissent as long as it gets its way.
"The point of all this," a State reporter said, "is that we are a business. It hurts, but it's a numbers thing, and that's sad."
When the Republican primary campaign came through South Carolina last month, Strom Thurmond, the barely living legend of Palmetto politics, was never far from Bob Dole's side. Whenever they appeared together, Dole couldn't find enough nice things to say about his good friend and colleague Strom.
At the God and Country Christian Coalition rally in Columbia, Dole told the flock that Thurmond has been a source of inspiration and wisdom to him. While Dole has never been as moderate as some would make him out to be, it was odd to hear the majority leader speak so lovingly of a politician who has traditionally considered anything of a vaguely centrist nature to be a threat to the republic.
One can only speculate as to how Strom and Bob would have gotten along if this campaign had happened 25 years ago. Below is an excerpt from a July 17, 1969, memo from White House aide Bryce Harlow to President Richard Nixon, prepping the president for a meeting with nine "younger Republican senators."
"The basic purpose [of this meeting] is to reward the senators all strong for you and to mobilize their support more effectively for administration programs on the Senate floor. These senators are mainly centrists. We purposefully excluded some of the better-known, more conservative senators (e.g., Goldwater, Thurmond, Tower) whose comments supporting you sometimes produce a distorted press reaction and who Bob Dole says the group hopes to exclude from themselves."
We don't know what transpired over the years to bring Bob and Strom together. Perhaps Dole found out that Strom carried four states and won 39 electoral votes as the Dixiecrat candidate for president in 1948.
If you long for the intrigue of the Spanish Inquisition or the purification rituals practiced in early Salem, you need to check out a Greenville County School Board meeting. For three years the Christian Coalition has held a majority of its school board seats, and what they lack in democratic principles they make up for with gavel-pounding righteousness.
Since 1993, the fundamentalist majority has determined that any citizen who mentions the name of a sitting board member in a critical fashion is out of order and is gavelled into silence.
On March 19, the People for the American Way (your voice against intolerance), on behalf of local parent Mike Cubelo, advised Greenville School Board chairperson Joseph Dill that he was out of control. The legal director for the national organization warned Dill that there is "no basis whatsoever to silence or censor public comments simply because they mention and disagree with the actions of specific board members."
The letter warned school board members that they would be sued if they persisted in censoring citizens.
Dill, who runs a Traveler's Rest auto repair shop and is characterized by his opposition as a "redneck with intellectual pretensions," promised, in a response dated March 22, to "adhere to the First Amendment."
Cubelo has promised to test Dill's newfound constitutional sensibilities at the next school board meeting.
Those paranoid liberals who live in Greenville and go on about their school board being a training ground for the Christian Coalition may not be delusional.
Dwight Loftis, a Christian Coalition school board member, had not served a full term when he resigned in January to fill the House seat vacated by Mike Fair, the Dean Emeritus of Fundamentalism, who won a special election to the Senate.
If Loftis had resigned his school board seat before Jan. 5, the district would not be left without representation and the expense of a special election. "He was hedging his bets," noted a local Democrat.
Loftis won the House race against his Democratic opponent, attorney Johnnie Fulton, by 77 votes. Loftis is going to have to face Fulton again in the November general election that promises to be rough-and-tumble.
The school board recently honored Loftis with a silver tray for "his years of service," in spite of the fact that he resigned short of finishing his first term.
"The empty plate symbolizes his empty seat," said one disgruntled parent.
Sec. of State Jim Miles made the political scenery a little grayer last month when he announced he would not challenge Strom Thurmond for his Senate seat. Not only is Miles going to stop suggesting, as he has for the past year, that Thurmond may lose, but he has "come to the conclusion that we do have a Republican candidate who can win that election, and his name is Sen. Strom Thurmond."
Last month Miles wrote supporters, "I cannot sit back and watch as South Carolina sends Bill Clinton another Democratic vote in the U.S. Senate. And we are in danger of doing just that."
What changed Jim's mind? He claims to have suddenly realized how "loved and respected and appreciated" Thurmond is. He also admitted that he couldn't beat Strom in a primary.
Miles noted that the only problem Thurmond faces is the perception that he is too old to be reelected. This type of political honesty will be a welcome addition to the senator's campaign.
Atty. Gen. Charlie Condon may have lost the major battle in his war against the Voters' Rights Act, but he's not about to surrender. After being ordered by a federal court to implement major portions of the motor voter registration plan, South Carolina is adding about 1,000 new voters a day at highway department offices.
Condon is dragging his feet about adding other state agencies especially the ones who deal with poor, minority or disabled citizens to the program to sign up voters.
Armand Durfner, the Charleston lawyer representing the groups suing the state over motor voter violations, said, "I hope [Condon] keeps up with the appeals. It's totally frivolous and I need the money. I only wish that Condon had to pay my bill out his pocket instead of the taxpayers'."
Condon's latest show of contempt for Judge Matthew Perry's order to get on with the program came in a letter to lawmakers March 30. Condon announced that, the way he sees it, the feds can only regulate elections for federal offices.
Charlie says he's not taking a position on the question of dual registration but he figures lawmakers should know they have another chance to thumb their noses at the feds at the expense of voters.
Condon cites Mississippi as an example, where motor voter registrants get a different colored card that allows them to vote only in federal elections. Such a move in South Carolina would keep the rabble from voting for Charlie's opponent and make Charlie popular with rich white people.
Chuck, if you think you can get away with this one, we're starting a petition drive for Duke to recall your law degree.
Rep. Herb Kirsh (D-York) is obviously a graduate of the Charlie Condon's Make Em Suffer, They Will Appreciate It More school of voter participation.
Kirsh led the opposition to Jim Hodges' (D-Lancaster) bill to let people vote by mail. "We've got a system now that works," Kirsh said. "Everybody ought to vote at the same time on the same day."
The bill was defeated 63 35.
Kirsh, who admitted that he hadn't read the bill, argued that voting by mail would invite fraud, in spite of not being able to come up with a single example the bill didn't consider.
The State Election Commission supported the bill, and figured that it could have increased voter participation by 10 percent.
Oregon has been conducting voting by mail for 15 years. Sixty-six percent of Oregon's registered voters cast ballots, compared to 45 percent in South Carolina.
For Kirsh and the rest of the House members who voted against this bill, new voters just screw up the demographics.